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Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Breaking Mount Everest record spurs on 73-year-old mountaineer
Despite reaching the summit of Mount Everest on May 19, becoming the oldest woman to achieve the feat and shattering her previous world record, 73-year-old Tamae Watanabe only felt more determined to train harder and started to focus on her next goal: promoting the joy of mountaineering among children and young women.
"If people become interested in mountain climbing, they will come to appreciate the importance of nature," Watanabe said in a recent interview.
Watanabe, a retired public servant from Yamanashi Prefecture, said what she remembers most clearly about her latest hike up the world's highest mountain is the hardship she endured.
"It was tough," she said. "The rock face was steep and there were corpses of climbers lying around.
"It brought home to me the need for even more thorough training before hitting the mountains again."
Watanabe this time made her ascent from the north ridge route, which begins in Tibet. The course is a much stiffer challenge than the southeast ridge approach from Nepal, the route she took when setting her first world record in 2002 at age 63.
But she suffered a serious back injury three years later after plunging 4 meters into a river near her home. Watanabe had to undergo a seven-hour surgery to repair the damage and continued to suffer back pain for a long time.
For a while, the then 66-year-old Watanabe feared she might never be able to climb again.
But driven on by her doctors' constant encouragement, she managed to complete a grueling rehabilitation process and in 2008 scaled her first peak since the accident — a mountain in Mongolia.
The experience helped her to regain her confidence, and she decided to attempt another ascent of Mount Everest's 8,848-meter peak this year to try to break her own record, which had stood unchallenged for a decade.
Watanabe became a fully committed mountaineer at age 28, while working for the Kanagawa Prefectural Government. However, she said her passion for mountain climbing originated during her childhood in Yamanashi Prefecture, where she was raised on the shores of Lake Kawaguchi in the shadow of Mount Fuji.
"Hiking up mountains was part of daily life back then, trekking here and there to gather firewood and grass to feed livestock," she said.
At age 73, her passion for mountains has yet to dim.